The “Follow Your Passion” Fallacy

If there’s something I hate about personal development and self improvement is the “follow your passion” advice. Not because is a bad advice, but because this statement by itself is completely useless to most people, myself included.

Most self improvement material out there today can be resumed in some variant of the “follow your passion” fallacy and this explains why so many people end up becoming self help junkies without actually achieving their dreams.

To tell somebody trapped in an unfulfilled life that they should follow their passion, is like a doctor simply telling a patient that he should be healthier. Pure gold, right?

When people focus completely on the importance of “following their passion”, they tend to get obsessed about what their passion actually is, and spend years trying to figure it out. In most cases, they never do, life goes by. It’s sad, but it’s also a very common story.

The problem is that the whole “follow your passion” dilemma is wrong by itself. When we ask ourselves what is our passion, we are expected to come up with a definite answer, and there’s no way to do so and still live a fulfilling life. The problem is not that we are unable to figure out what our single passion is, the problem is that we are asking the wrong question in the first place.

Life Is More Than One Single Dish Dinner

The idea of following our passion implies that we must find an activity, idea, person, or even a thing that we love above everything else, and build a life around that. The idea of living a life driven by passion is a promise of endless satisfaction and everlasting joy. Yet, deep inside we know this is a lie. But everybody tells us the same thing, and they all look so happy and successful, so they have to be right.

How would you feel if I tell you today that the way to happiness is choosing one single dish and eat that for the rest of your life, every day, until the moment you die? What if you have to trick yourself into believing that this is actually the true path to happiness? You would feel, at least, a little bit confused, right? I’m sure you would think hard and long about it before choosing your single meal.

So you set yourself the goal to figure out what your passion is and you put some hard thought to it; after all, is what you’re going to do for the rest of your life. You better choose well.

No wonder why so many people never make up their minds and prefer to remain stuck in an unfulfilled life in order to avoid “living their passion”.

The first misconception about “following your passion” is the fact that the idea is posed as a permanent decision, when this could not be further from the truth.

The way to a fulfilled life is not finding the one thing on this planet that you love above everything else and do that thing every day until the moment you die. That is not my idea of a life full of passion. The way to a fulfilled life is by finding the thing on this planet that you love above everything else and do that for as long as it makes you feel good, knowing and understanding that such thing or activity could change at any given moment and that this is alright.

 

 

You Can Have It All

So there you are, frozen. Trying to decide between sushi or steak, or maybe you’re thinking about going vegan? By the time you come up with an answer, it doesn’t really matter anymore. Life has gone by. “Time flies” is a cliché, but that doesn’t mean is not true.

When thinking about our passion, we tend to get paralyzed by analysis. This is completely understandable when we approach the matter as if we had only one shot, which we know now is not true.

The irony is that by thinking that we have only one shot, we lose so much time and energy, that eventually we are really left with one single shot, if anything. On the other hand, if we lose the fear of failure and decide to take action as often as we can, chances are we will grow beyond what we thought possible.

Once we understand that choosing to live a passionate life in a certain manner is not a lifelong commitment, but a never ending work in progress, it becomes easier to take a step forward.

It doesn’t matter if you don’t know what you are passionate about. Choose to try something, anything. When take a step forward and truly try, only there’re only two possible outcomes: success or failure. But in this case failure means to understand that we are not as passionate about that particular activity as we thought to be. For me that is far more enlightening that a hundred years of meditation.

We’re so afraid of choosing, that even the small choices take us a while. So practice to choose every day in every way you can. The next time you are at a restaurant, don’t go over the whole menu 10 times and ponder for 30 minutes which is the best option. Order whatever looks interesting, and if it is a mess, you can come over in a few days or weeks and order something else. Is not the end of the world if the chicken is not as you grandmother used to cook it. Stop losing time and start taking action.

 

Fire, Aim, Approach

“Follow your passion” is not actually an inaccurate advice after all. The problem is that we often confuse following our passion with “think long and hard about what is the one single thing you love the most and do that FOREVER”. Now, that’s not a very good advice.

Making the choice of living a passionate life is a call to action. You cannot follow your passion by thinking about it. Life is about learning and evolving, so don’t be afraid of failure, is inevitable and a natural part of being a human.

 

If you liked this article, please feel free to share your thoughts in the comments section, or shoot me an email to jlara@thegoodvader.com if you are shy! I read and answer every email.

We can also connect through Twitter at @juls0013.

If you know someone who would enjoy this article, please feel free to share it via email or by clicking on the share buttons below.

Finally, don’t miss a single GoodVader update by subscribing to our newsletter in the following form:

Passionate about personal development and self-improvement. Sharing my thoughts and ideas from theGoodVader Blog (www.theGoodVader.com). and with a first book coming soon! Grab a FREE copy for a limited period of time: www.TheDisciplineManifesto.com

43 Comments

  1. Hi…good post. I would like to share my view about “Follow your passion”. For me “Follow your passion” is “follow your heart”. Anything you do, do it with passion and you will excel. I think when people say “Follow your passion”, they mean, do whatever you feel interested in and what you love because what when we do what we love, we surely excel in it and when passion is there, person is not afraid of failures because he is clear in his vision and determined to achieve his goals. Its basically a difference in perceiving things in life. For some, “Follow your passion” mean something related to “Follow your heart” and for some it may seem like “Living with a single meal in life”. This was just my view. Thought of sharing here. Everyone looks at life in a different way.

    • Thank you for sharing your thoughts Gargi! I completely agree with you that the meaning of following your passion can vary greatly in dependence of your perception.

    • I agree with you Gargi. It may sound vague when I tell people around me to follow their passion. But, for me that “Follow Your Passion” when somebody tells you that — may be your friend, your mom, dad, whosoever — is like a driving force for you to something that you really want rather than doing something that everyone requires you to do like taking an undergraduate course that you don’t even love studying, something like that. Yes, I agree with Julio that it also sound fallacious because again it sounds vague. Too broad abstract idea to figure out. But for me, this is just a driving force, a call, an urge or something relative to that.

      I do blog about this because I don’t have that driving force before when I studied in college. So, with that past mistake, I tell my students, friends to “Follow their Passion.” 🙂 Anyway, this is a great post. xoxo

  2. Great post!!!

  3. I am sorry to say this, but the passion thing? Its pretty huge. I was in a relationship where I compromised by subsuming my mystical nature….and it ended in tragedy. I have a friend who did something similar and lost herself. I have friends who do things because they are practical in order to make a living….and they aren’t happy. It isn’t hard to understand that if you do something that you love that it won’t seem like work….but play. I do what I love and I would never go back to conventional.

    Interesting things happen when you say ‘yes’ to what you love…..the universe supports you. A big component to this is not your state of mind, but state of feeling. The language of manifesting is feeling not logic. To understand how this works you have to be willing to set aside bias, examine your beliefs, and know how you feel. If you believe you can’t, you won’t.

    I’m an artist. My passion means working harder than the avg Joe, which I do. Does society put a premium on what I do? Nope. Instead, I do what I must to make a living making my work. I don’t complain, I love what I do and it shows. I am engaged and fulfilled.

    I was in an unfulfilling relationship where I pretended to be something I’m not. It ended very badly. And now? Single and following my passion. I couldn’t be happier. I tried conventional…..it didn’t work. Life is too short to waste it on anything less than what you love doing. If you followed your passion and failed or fell down, don’t be amazed when thegods don’t suspend the laws of reality for you. You still must work hard….maybe harder….in order to be good at it so it sustains you. Job in a cubicle fielding customer service calls all day or running my hot glass studio? Not everyone can turn their passion into work, so the work jobs they hate and do their passion as a hobby…..which is a life saver. Many ways for living a fulfilled life

  4. May our passion be life itself and our doors open to the best that can be today!

  5. Great post – and I totally agree. I have seen a number of friends around me who are going nowhere in life because they want to follow their passion and they blindly believe that being completely pig headed and not willing to change or adapt will get them to their goal in the end.

    I feel the importance with passion – is to be open and adapt to the world around you. Your hobby may be your passion but there has sometimes to be an honesty that, that is something you can only do on evenings and weekends.

    Regarding the self improvement/personal development ‘follow your passion’ being a common piece of advice. I guess this is trying to give people what they want. They don’t want to hear that they won’t be a best selling author, or can spend their life travelling the world.

    And yes evolving is important – what I want now is a lot different than when I was in my mid 20’s. And what I wanted in my mid 20’s was a lot different to when I was 18… etc…etc. So yeah, how can we spend our life following a passion when they constantly change?

  6. This is the best article I ever come across on this topic. It does make sense, as this misadvice, as you suggested, sort of confuses the individual, and actually could successfully holds one back. You easily could end up not realising exactly what is holding you back. Thank you for the great post.

  7. Great write! I totally agree! Going to share this!

  8. “follow your passion” is a phrase that should not be taken at face value. As you said, it makes people freeze in place trying to figure what is their passion. I would say a better piece of advice would be “find things you can be interested in, stick to them for a bit, and see which ones fulfil you the most”.

    More long-winded but, in my opinion, solid.

  9. This is a great post. In my experience, neither the person speaking the words, nor the one hearing them, understands what that phrase means. What I have found in myself and others that is at the root of the problem is that many of us have no idea what we want. No clue. We don’t know what we want out of life, out of other people, out of our experiences, or much of anything. We rely on expectations that actually come from other people.

    The sentiment is a nice one, the words sound inspirational. As you point out, it is exactly what many of us want to hear. What I prefer–though it may not be any more helpful for anyone other than me–is “follow your purpose”.

    • I really like that maxim. I really think you are onto something, I recently read a book titled ‘Happiness by Design: Finding Pleasure & Purpose in Everyday Life’ by Paul Dolan. He advocated that happiness had these two components and to live a meaningful, fulfilling life, you needed to cultivate both pleasure & purpose.

  10. What I got out of this post, which is beautiful I might add, is “Follow Your Passion” is a terrible way of telling someone, “Do what you enjoy.” More or less. I think I may have to write my own thoughts on this topic.

    I greatly appreciate then new way of thinking Mr. Lara.

  11. I have struggled with tunnel vision for the last 15 years in the quest to ‘follow my passion’. I have strived relentlessly to realise my dream of working with Great Apes. I have tried every possible career path including: volunteer zookeeper, stablehand, wildlife carer, vet nurse… At 45, I have now reached a crossroads in my life, where I need to commit to a single path to gain qualifications & expertise in one area. I am interested in Animal Assisted Therapy & Equine Assisted Therapy and need to gain my qualifications as a Psychologist before I am eligible for the postgraduate Certificate in Animal Assisted Therapy. In my case I need to be very single-minded in pursuit of my goal, but I am hoping my qualifications in psychology might open up careers in other fields, namely working with captive apes in scientific research. Thank you for your post it was most illuminating and really helped me to clarify my career goals.

  12. Good afternoon, Mr. Lara! Your post has a most interesting perspective. I will say, I believe in pursuing your passion, but perhaps from a different vantage point – which is something I try to clarify on my blog. When I think about pursuing your passion, I relate it to catching – not chasing – your dreams (which I find to be elusive, quite frankly). I agree, sometimes people with the intent of inspiring leave individuals with directions so nebulous and ethereal that they aren’t really within their grasp. That’s where we part ways.

    I believe that passions are not stuck in singularity. Nor do they require us to throw away rhyme and reason as you jump off a cliff of oblivion. I have many passions and many dreams, but I’m a healthy blend of an optimist and realist. I love food. So I try many different things because it excites me endlessly. I watch Food TV. Read about food in magazines, and take lots of pictures of things I enjoy consuming.

    I love writing. So I blog. I’ve been trying my hand at poetry. I’ve written a few articles for magazines. I’m working on a self-published book. I write stories for my students, and I write with my boys. I love speaking. So of late, I’ve been pursuing – and finding – opportunities to share positive messages with a wide variety of audiences…but this – is quite literally – me pursuing my passion, catching my dreams.

    I’m not dong it to be rich and famous as that’s not my objective and truthfully, might not occur. I’m not doing it to convince hopeless enthusiasts that I’m so blissfully overjoyed that they could jump off a mountain and experience the same ideal if they’d just believe…

    But here’s what I do believe, Mr. Lara. Although at times it’s prominent, and at others, it’s unknown – in the conversations I’ve had with hundreds of people, there is a realm of things that they enjoy that they would like to indulge in far more than what they do. Some are things they could pursue as a livelihood. And while others are not, they could be past times that bring them a fulfillment not currently known to them.

    I’m “wildly convinced” that everyone has something they can do well, with practice, that would make them feel amazing. And even if it didn’t come out perfectly, I do try to encourage them to do that. Not to be unrealistic. Not to be foolish. But to be happy. To be satisfied with their choices. To find that thing – or things – whether they change or not – that make them feel like the joys in life are…priceless.

    Pursuing my passion, catching my dreams, -Carla M. Brown

    Hats off to you for stirring up intrigue 🙂

  13. awesome post! it was like a reality check that is also motivational, and had advice that I really needed at this point of my life (!!!)

  14. I think a lot of people misunderstand this concept. Just because one follows his heart doesn’t mean he will become rich or famous. It just means he will be forever evolving, finding fulfillment and failures along the way. Thanks for sharing.

  15. The post was well written yet I believe generic to a point. Yes, there are many people out there jumping on the “it’s all about you” bandwagon and spreading their message of focus and “passion.” The word passion invokes different definitions with everyone. Therefore, as you stated finding one’s passion is different for everyone.

    I teach others about passion and really finding what their joy is. I do not tell them what to choose, I simply ask the questions that help them on their path. I have found my passion and I am living it. I am also grateful and balanced, which is what I hope to role model to my clients and students.

    Thank you for this article, it’s refreshing to see others opinion of this subject.

  16. Gail Kaufman

    The pressure on us to follow our passion starts at a very young age. “What do you want to be when you grow up?” is question that gnawed at me for years. I am glad that I discovered writing, but am hesitant to label it as a passion because I don’t want to be weighed down with such a loaded term. So glad you brought this subject up. I like your perspective.

  17. You’ve said something that needed to be pointed out. Following your passion doesn’t have to mean a lifelong passion. In fact, do it minute by minute. What do you want to do right now?

    Put another way, Sanaya Roman said, “Do only what you want to do, every moment of every day.” It covers the work you don’t enjoy. That is, tell yourself you don’t have to go to work today. Right away, or maybe after a day off, you’ll probably reason that, because you need money, you’re CHOOSING to go to work today. That actually helps you be more satisfied with going and while you’re there. I found it helped me stop making myself do things I don’t like, and that I’d end up doing them, without even thinking about it at some point, because I chose to.

    If you continue finding your passion for the moment, that will take you far in finding your “true passion” or several passions, and ways to follow them.

  18. Hey Julio,

    I get what your saying in this post. It seems that a lot of people feel as though they have to be passionate about 1 particular thing.

    But what if your passion is for solving problems, or building something, or helping people? These sort of passions can be lived in a multitude of different ways. Personally, I am passionate about building something that is mine, that will impact other people and allow me to live a flexible lifestyle. It may take me a few goes, and a few different attempts to get there, but because it is passion I am motivated to keep trying and pushing on.

    It’s really interesting to get other peoples takes on what ‘passion’ means to them, especially in business. I think it really depends on what motivate you as to if you can “follow your passion” to achieve success in business or you just like to look at the numbers (which I would argue, then becomes your passion).

    Looking forward to more of your posts!

    Emma

  19. As a lifelong seeker in mid-life… my passion has has ebbed and flowed… always into the helping fields… people and animals who are vulnerable… but still, it’s come and gone. I love this post because I believe I have bought into the notion that once you find your passion, you’ll be happy… and that has not been the case for me, for varying reasons. The number one reason (for me) is that usually, other people are involved and they may not share my passion or worse, they may hinder it. The last time I followed my bliss, I left a nearly decades-long job to work with animals for much less pay but more “heart feels”… and almost immediately came up against a negative force (two people who wanted me gone for their own reasons) and they pushed me out after less than three months. So much for following my passion. It broke my heart and honestly, I’ve had a lot of trouble figuring out what happened, my part in it, and if I was just living in a dream world. Excellent post!

  20. Thoughtful post Gargi. I especially like the food metaphor.
    You’re right about those of us who have ‘perfectionistic tendencies’ ; the idea of picking just one thing does induce a fear driven paralysis.

    The ones who quote Steve Jobs, from the famous Stanford Commencement address, forget to mention that Steve himself did a lot of experimenting before he found something that captivated him and fit his unique skill set. The other thing they fail to mention is that he was a genius! Sadly, that’s not the case for most of us.

    Choosing a career is a privilege not a burden. Billions of people have no such luxury. They labor at jobs that are most often determined by governments or their families.
    We’ve elevated work & career expectations to unrealistic levels; seeking our identity and fulfillment in life from our jobs. How dumb is that?

    Find a way to pay your bills and then spend the rest of your time enjoying the people you love and the things you really like doing. The wisest man who ever lived offers you his take on the subject of life and work in Ecclesiastes 3:9-13.

  21. I like the emphasis on action vis a vis thought. Most successful and self actualized people today were not great thinkers but doers. They learnt through failure, heartbreak, perseverance.
    Meanwhile we can’t be in total conflict with what our inner voice is whispering. Its the most intelligent opinion we often discard. we need to shred the doubts induced in us by the societal noise. This is where meditation helps.

    I feel its a bit of both, There must be a method to madness.
    Nice post Julio, it makes me interested other posts of yours, Could you share some tips on how to create an appealing blog, Mine looks and feels quite immature.

    ” do you want to know who you are? dont ask ACT!. Action will delineate you and define you”. Thomas Jefferson

  22. I appreciate your comment about paralysis. After a few years of devastating grief, I’ve been stuck wondering which way to go next. Money, time and energy has been the biggest factors since spending them on one career path can preclude the others. For awhile I thought I’d rotate paths, taking a different type of course each semester. But it seemed a bit frenetic.

    The comment about following passions involves activity not just thinking about activity was one that I needed to hear.

    Currently, I’m doing what I believe I’m good at, honing the dream I had as a child: to teach literature and written expression. Allowing this to take center stage has moved me away from the stress of over-thinking and the never-ending pursuit of a perfect career. It has also given me the space to take the classes that move me the most: writing fiction.

    I can’t say I’m at peace, but I’m taking deeper breaths and it’s helping.

    Thanks for the post.

  23. There is a difference between following a passion and having a passion. Passion is a driving emotion. It brings a sense of fulfillment as it is lived. You don’t have to follow a passion; it leads you. Every person I know that has achieved success in their life (defined differently for each person) has had a driving force they described as passion. This post will created dialogue and thought. Good job.

    • You’re right friend! Often we confuse “being” with “doing”. I think purpose is the key to unlock our true potential and passion the fuel for doing so. Thank you for sharing your thoughts!

  24. Great post! You explained in a simple way something people tend to overly complicate

  25. Great article. There is no “soulmate” of purpose. So true. Heart work, hard work and hustle tend to reveal purpose. https://undisputedorigin.wordpress.com/2015/07/23/heart-work/

  26. Mr. Lara, thank you for such an amazing wisdom. After a few years of stumbling on how to help people, I too used this false inspiration. Many clients still came back lost or confused, not moving forward. When I began seeking people’s natural talents and learned abilities, their passions instantly became their passionate life. Much gratitude for breaking this down, and sharing it. I am inspired by what you have done to create an Illuminous World!
    Lori
    IlluminousWorld.com

  27. Great post! Passions can change, and we should not lose momentum or heart when they do. Sometimes we think we know what we want and the opposite is true. That is okay. Just choose. And if you have to choose again, then choose again. Remove the pressure of all-or-nothing mentality or any ideal of perfection. To add, we might focus our attention on the romantic components of the passion without acknowledging the grueling parts, because we are too absorbed by the good parts of the description. No matter what though, there is no reason to give-up and stop seeking. .

    • “And if you have to choose again, then choose again.” – This is key, my friend. Thank you for sharing your thoughts!

  28. I like what you have said in this post a great deal, even though I had to struggle to read it due to your odd word choices and grammar/syntax. Are you a native English speaker? I ask because this reads as I would expect it to read for someone who learned English as a second (or third or fourth) language: the thoughts are there, but, at least for someone who had proper vocabulary and grammar drummed into them in school, it can be hard to figure out what you are saying in spots.

    In any case, thank you for posting this, as it does address a major failing of the self-help field, one of those things that annoyed me so much that I stopped listening to people in that field years ago. Now that I see there ARE good people involved who may actually be able to provide useful advice (such as you did here), I will give it another go. And, of course, I will follow your blog to see what else you have to say.

    • You’re right Tim! I’m not a native english speaker. I’m glad the message went through anyway! Thanks for sharing your thoughts!

  29. In spite of all the posts garnered in the comments, you had already made those same points. What you described is what it all eventually boils down to (common sense), don’t get hemmed in by any single directing agent, whether it be passion or impassionate. Thanks for the post JL

Comments are closed.

%d bloggers like this: